The dream happened at home. There on the couch by the corner, curled up like an unborn, wrapped in a blanket for an amniotic sac, a house within the house, a room within the room, impervious to the cold of the night, she slept. She slept peacefully. I stood a few steps away from where she was, like a shadow camouflaged in the darkness, a sentry watching over her for some time. But even in the promise of her birth, the place felt empty, like a lifeless womb.
The door creaked ajar, then it swung open, revealing my neighbor sprawled in drunken stupor beneath the awning. Light gushed into the room like blood from a wound, only that it was white. He tried to crawl his way inside as though he was bleeding from the brightness, but I closed the door, forced it shut with my left foot. He kept pushing from behind, outside, knocking and banging his fists like a prisoner of freedom begging to be let back in his jail, in the comfort of incarceration. A dog barking for its leash. The struggle lasted for a while, until there was silence.
Exhausted, I sat on the floor, between the door and the couch, my back against the wall. The noise must have shaken her to wakefulness. She woke up as though finally she decided that she must now be born, delivered by way of a motherless, painless birth. She got off the couch, walked a bit before retiring on the floor, and laid her head on my left thigh. I combed her hair with my hand. Combed it over and over. I told her “Will you believe me if I tell you that - ” but she cut my words off and said, smiling, her lips revealing her teeth, her eyes to the roof, “Yevchenko. He’s such a bad boy, but he’s handsome.”
I didn’t know who Yevchenko was.
It was then that I woke up from the dream. It was 6:45 in the evening, June 21, the same day I first met her eleven years earlier, which was also a Saturday at 6:45, except that it was in the morning.
I got up from bed. Ate cold dinner, or what was left of lunch. Took a bath, the longest one I can remember. Fixed my things in my room. Shaved. Skimmed through the bland television shows. Drank coffee. Pet the dogs. Pet the coffee. Shaved my things in my room. Ate a cold bath, or what was left of the television shows. Skimmed through the bland dinner. And the dogs, the longest ones I can remember. But through it all, amid the clarity and confusion, confusion more than clarity, the question won’t rub off, won’t wash itself away, like a bad memory plastered on my skin: Yevchenko?
I turned on the computer and did a quick online search. Of the many things that somehow made sense, one caught my attention — Valeriy and Alena Yevchenko: Sacramento (California) Wedding Photographers.
“A sign,” I said. I looked around, wondering what the universe was trying to say in its conspiratorial silence at nine in the evening.
A praying mantis clung to the edge of the table. On the floor, the decapitated head of another mantis stood still, the rest of its body nowhere to be found. A dead male, I thought, who had to pay the steep price of life in exchange for something as momentary as mating. Sexual cannibalism couched in the lofty jargon of ‘reproduction.’ In pursuit of his carnal desire, in his attempt to satiate his virility, the male mantis had to lose his head. The female mantis, ripe with the promise of pregnancy, held on to the edge of the table, triumphant and remorseless, as though in the animal kingdom she was the epitome of greatness, the beacon of life and death praying three feet off the floor, praying perhaps that she be cleared of her sin and be spared from damnation, praying with her scythe defiled by the blood of her victim, to which one may say that it was a justified death, an inevitable sanction ordained by the law of nature, and that therefore she was innocent.
He’s such a bad boy, but he’s handsome. And so, by virtue, or vice, of marriage (to which Valeriy and Alena Yevchenko will later have the marital evidence to show for), he had to lose his head. A dog barking for its leash, but a leash without the neck to wrap itself around with.
“Why are you looking at pictures of praying mantises on the internet?”
My younger brother was standing behind me, awakened from his sleep in the bedroom, his groggy eyes at the computer screen. His unannounced presence startled me. “Because I want to be a bad boy,” I said, heart thumping.
He stared at me before walking toward the bathroom, perhaps thinking that I’m beginning to lose my head, and that it’s quite unfortunate for him to have an older brother about to lose his grip on sanity like a block of butter in my palm. Along the way, he stepped on the decapitated head of the mantis, the sound of the tender thorax crunching beneath the weight of his slippers like a faint and dismal echo in the universe that he was not obliged to notice.
A few minutes later, my brother emerged from the bathroom. Before he went back inside the bedroom, he said, his face to the door, “But you’re not even handsome.” He laughed, and disappeared into the darkness.
The praying mantis, too, retreated into the shadows.
They say that dreams are the opposite of things.